By Liana Grey
In most commercial kitchens, chefs don’t think twice before tossing food scraps and cardboard cartons in the trash.
At Chelsea Piers, the waterfront sports and entertainment complex where hundreds of meals are prepared for weddings, corporate banquets, and children’s events each year, members of the catering staff only use garbage bins as a last resort.
They serve lunch at summer camp sessions and birthday parties on reusable dishware, colored bright green to symbolize environmental consciousness, and dump every imaginable scrap — from carrot peels to chicken bones to eggshells — into yellow buckets stationed at each prep table.
The contents are then emptied into a composter down the hallway, which breaks everything down using enzymes and woodchips, and filters the remaining liquid through the sewage system.
The machine, affectionately nicknamed Bubba after a former kitchen employee, saved 144 tons of garbage from entering landfills last year alone, and has become something of a legend among chefs and visitors alike. Over the summer, young campers lined up to “feed” the machine their leftovers.
The composting system was installed several years ago, after David Tewksbury, co-founder and senior vice president of Chelsea Piers Management, which built the one million square feet complex on an abandoned shipping terminal in 1994, pledged to reduce solid waste by 10% and cut back energy consumption by three percent each year.
“We have the potential to generate lots of waste,” he said during a tour of the facility’s green features held just before St. Patrick’s Day. “We tried to re-evaluate our entire system.” That meant installing field turf made of tires and other recycled materials at the four-tier golf club — where Tiger Woods once showed off his swing at a press gathering — and assembling a “green team” of employees to oversee a series of small but effective changes.
“Simple, straightforward procedures” are key, Tewksbury said. Bathrooms were stocked, for instance, with eco-friendly paper towers and toilet paper. And green, clearly marked recycling bins were scattered throughout the property.
But not all bottles and cans wind up where they should. Janitors regularly gather water bottles discarded by golfers, swimmers, and hockey players, and feed them to a less sophisticated version of Bubba.
“Water bottles are crushed, put into cubes, and picked up by a recycling company,” Tewksbury explained. (Unlike food and cardboard, plastic products can’t be broken down to liquid and diverted to the water treatment system.)
To make life easier for athletes and cleaning crews, he said, “we installed convenient water taps, which are good for reducing the bottles that end up in the trash.”
On-site water vendors weren’t too happy with the plan, Tewksbury said, but along with Bubba, the new fountains helped the facility meet its waste reduction goals and reduce trash collection fees.
After shelling out $500,000 to replace incandescent light bulbs with LED ones, and signing up for Con Edison Solutions’ wind energy program, which helps generate demand for wind power by supplying it to the regional grid on behalf of participants, Tewksbury and his team managed to successfully save electricity as well.
Earlier this month, he received word that an even more efficient line of compact fluorescent bulbs is available, and will test them out in the building’s two parking garages.
“We’re installing the next generation of light fixtures,” he explained, which are expected to reduce energy consumption by as much as 80%. “We’re looking at doing it again in the next few years,” he said. “We continue to try to do small things to make Chelsea Piers a more environmentally friendly place.”